Sébastien Bourdais led the way as Scuderia Toro Rosso achieved its second double top ten qualifying result in succession – and second of the 2008 Formula 1 season – at Spa-Francorchamps this weekend, as the Frenchman increasingly gets to grips with life in the top flight.
Indeed, the four-time Champ Car Champion – under pressure to hang onto his seat at the Red Bull junior squad next year – was audibly overjoyed to have seen his name shoot right to the top of the timing screens at the close of Q1, as he sensationally out-paced the likes of Heikki Kovalainen, Felipe Massa, Lewis Hamilton et al
to storm to P1 in the order.
Another strong performance in Q2 saw Bourdais ease through to the top ten shoot-out for only the second time during his rookie campaign in the uppermost echelon, and from there he would go on to out-qualify team-mate Sebastian Vettel for ninth place – the young German planning on running a long first stint in the race – as the 'two Sebs' prepare to line up alongside each other on the fifth row of the starting grid on race day.
“A qualifying session when I can get out of the car and say that I drove well and that the team, as usual, did a good job,” enthused 29-year-old Bourdais. “The car worked well, even if we couldn't mix it too much with those ahead of us; let's see what strategies the others are on in terms of fuel loads tomorrow. A couple of tenths is all that separated us from sixth or seventh.
“It's beginning to come together, and it's been a good weekend so far. I feel this track and its corners suit me better. It was nice to see my name at the top of a timesheet in Q1 – it's been a long time!”
“I'm quite happy and we can be satisfied to get both cars in Q3, which we did not expect at this track,” added Vettel of his fifth top ten qualifying appearance of the season, despite having trailed his team-mate in each of the three parts of the session. “It was a strong qualifying performance. I was struggling a bit in those sections where the driver doesn't have to do much; I could not find the pace my team-mate had.
“I messed up my last run a bit, but it didn't affect the result in the end. I think we have a good strategy for both cars, so let's see what happens. At the moment, I'm starting on the dirty side of the track, but if it rains for the race it becomes the clean side.”
Indeed, STR has inarguably been going from strength-to-strength in recent outings, to such an extent that it is now considered almost a regular contender for points – a fact not lost on the small, Faenza-based concern's technical director Giorgio Ascanelli.
“Better than expected,” the Italian summarised of the performance, “as I had predicted tenth and 13th. It is the second race in a row that we get both cars into Q3, and they have run reliably. Clearly our guys are on two different strategies, so Vettel didn't get the full potential out of the car as he is heavier and he didn't have the benefit of a first sighting run in Q3.
“Anything can happen at this track, and for the race we wanted to have our cars positioned differently. The fastest driver – and today that was Bourdais – gets the fastest strategy in Q3. Overall, it was a strong performance.”